As per the data released recently, 2.33 crore registered micro, small and medium enterprises generate employment for 14 crore individuals. In addition to registered businesses on the Udyam portal, there are a large number of unregistered businesses. As a matter of fact, close to 70 percent of businesses are unregistered. The government has been implementing various schemes for the development of this sector. However, very few of these schemes are implemented for workers. Large sector industries are organised and registered. Workers in those sectors are somewhat organised and may have mechanisms to seek justice. But the situation in the MSME sector is different. The owner is essentially found to be struggling with stabilising the business. Due to the unorganised nature of the overall sector, both entrepreneurs and workers have to suffer the consequences. According to a report by Centre for Excellence in Entrepreneurship & Development(CEED) powered by the DeAsra foundation at Gokhale Institute of Politics and Economics, one of the most difficult problems faced by nano entrepreneurs in Pune post COVID-19 is finding workers. The survey also found that at other times, retaining workers with the right skills is a challenge for these businesses. This is a problem faced by entrepreneurs. On the other hand micro and small scale industry workers face uncertainty due to ever changing technology and increasing competition from youth in labour jobs. If they lose their job, their families are at the risk of being pushed into poverty.
When discussing the MSME sector in India, it is important to think about the workers too. During COVID-19, many schemes gave relief to the MSME sector with the motive of securing the future of workers and the overall industry. In some countries like the USA, Payroll Protection Program has been implemented for the MSME sector. In this scheme, the entrepreneur is given help by the financial institution. However, there is a stark difference in India. Therefore, along with the small entrepreneurs, the workers in this sector also need support. After COVID-19, lakhs of workers in the MSME sector went to their hometowns. Efforts were made to create employment for them under Gramodyog Vikas Yojana. ‘E-Shram’ service was implemented to enable these migrant workers to benefit from other concessions. Almost 84 lakh individuals registered on this portal. But there were many technical problems while registering for this service. This proved to be an impediment in getting benefits.
Such issues were faced by workers of small scale industries even before the pandemic and are persistent to this day. These workers comprise various age groups and educational qualifications. There are women, rural and urban workers, as well as migrants. The questions of all these are aplenty. They are not guaranteed a job. There are no rules regarding hygiene and health at the workplace. There is no question of safety, social security, post-retirement benefits for women workers. Due to this, they do not have the means to come together and raise their demands. Therefore, small entrepreneurs need encouragement and support so that they can access facilities. Since this is considered as a labour intensive sector that generates employment, it is necessary for the government to implement positive schemes for the welfare of the workers.
This article by Dr. Lalitagauri Kulkarni was originally published in Marathi in Sakal Newspaper on September 26, 2023.